Monitoring vs. mentoring in sub-grants management
Financial support to third parties has finally become alive as a result of number of large size grants awarded to CSOs and CSO networks and partnerships in the Western Balkan region and Turkey. I am referring to CSOs since this article is inspired by one regional meeting referring to CSO development issues. Also, I would say the CSOs most use this opportunity which can be however found in other EU funded Calls for Proposals as well (targeting other entities).
The so-called “sub-granting” is one of the capacity building approaches which allows to grant beneficiary distribution of funds to smaller, usually locally based initiatives on the same objective. Even it is introduced as the specific section in the Calls for Proposals starting some 10 years ago, sub-granting was actually eligible activity before as well. For example, my first experience was 20 years ago as part of one CARDS grant.
This capacity building opportunity was not perceived immediately as a such due to concerns regarding organisational capacities needed to manage such actions, the size of grants was not in favour of those who wanted to manage sub-grants and in overall, there was lack of information and experience in terms of how the contractual obligations among grant beneficiary and sub-grant beneficiaries actually look like in practice including expectations in terms of reporting procedures etc.
Read more about my thoughts in relation to grant making in the article "Grant making as capacity building concept".
So, what is the actual discussion? It relates to doubts on how the monitoring and mentoring of grants and grant beneficiaries is compatible and under which terms.
The mentoring has become very popular approach over the years and is used more and more. This is the response on how capacity building can provide more than just a training support. That is why the mentoring is also popular as a type of the support to sub-grant beneficiaries.
However, the key question which I am asked several times in past year is how we divide mentoring and monitoring since we are aware that the role of the control and verification of sub-grant reports and documentation should be included in the grant management process, especially in relation to monitoring exercise.
Through my professional development in the area of grant management, I was trained to be dedicated to monitoring of grants which should be much beyond than control. Monitoring is amazing learning opportunity since finally you have opportunity to observe the real life of the project which you were imagining while reading project proposal.
As we know, the monitoring includes both, programme and financial aspects of one project and has purpose to collect information in terms of further reporting, to verify the actual status of the project but also to provide support to grant beneficiaries in relation to questions they have, or on the spot situation observed.
My approach to monitoring includes an open discussion with the grant beneficiary starting how the project idea is born, who are the members of the project team and at which stage of implementation is project now.
This is a process of establishing rapport and acknowledging the work already done. It is very much important for creation of environment of trust at which all issues can be openly communicated.
I was recently asked how is that possible. Well, not to be modest, it is possible if you invest in building your communication skills and approaching to grant beneficiary by respecting its knowledge and experience. I can tell you that there are many grant beneficiaries, especially CSOs which will confirm they did not experience such approach often.
During the monitoring visit, I am clearly dividing parts in which I am 1) asking questions and listening, 2) responding on questions and providing clarifications and instructions, and 3) in which I am providing my feedback.
In this way I am ensuring that adequate expert support is provided which often relates with clarification of some rules and procedures, especially in case when some issues are reported or detected.
Successful monitoring visit should end with presentation of the summary list of findings and instructions for further (follow-up) actions. The same should be presented in the monitoring report.
Whenever I have opportunity (depending on my contractual obligations), the monitoring report is shared by my side to the grant beneficiary and contracting authority at the same time, sending to both of them one e-mail message.
There are no surprises then. It is clear what is the status of the project and what should be done.
However, such approach is possible only in the period prior to submission of the interim or final reports and this should be also clearly communicated. Once, the grant beneficiary submits the report, then the monitoring visit is the actual control and verification. Yes, even at that time will include elements of support by providing responses on questions etc. BUT now without or with limited opportunity to conduct changes.
According to my experience, the best-case scenario is when you have capacity to conduct monitoring on the quarterly basis. This dynamic is providing enough time for improvements and regular support.
What about mentoring?
This actually relates on what you perceive as mentoring. If the above-described process is what you call mentoring also, then, do not call it anymore. This is just monitoring which can also include day-to-day support via i.e., help desk service, training events, meetings etc.
However, if you are providing targeted support in particular programme area, this is the place where you can introduce mentoring support, and this is then something to be observed separately to monitoring. Similar like specific programme area training events.
How we divide our roles in mentoring and monitoring?
My response might sound sharp because question actually relates to how we explain our role to sub-grant beneficiaries. Meaning, how we divide our roles of controller and supporter. The answer is: “You are not dividing them!” There is no point neither a need of dividing them, but you have to clearly communicate that this is a process in which you are observing and providing feedback as part of your support.
However, mentoring support, as well as training support is strong supporter to the monitoring process of sub-grant beneficiaries. For example, if beneficiary is not responding on your e-mails, if their representatives are not participating in mentoring or training sessions, if they are coming unprepared, if they are not submitting any inquiries, sending information about their activities and events…. then this is the warning sign for the action.
Simply, development process should always be perceived as complex action and each segment of this action is learning opportunity based on the monitoring approach.
Having more questions about development projects and grant making? Please, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be happy to support you and share more interesting stories from my grant management experience.